Cape Hatteras is widely recognized as the #1 place for surfing on the East Coast of the United States. Many surfers call Cape Hatteras, “The Wave Magnet,” as it sits on the dividing line between the North and South Atlantic Oceans and receives swell from the NW clockwise all the way through the SW. In other words, the only swell it doesn’t receive is West!
Most summer swells are from the East, SE, S or SW (SW is wind swell, but good with some size and an offshore wind). During August and September, offshore Tropical Storms and Hurricanes can send powerful S, SE or East swells. Fall and Winter see more Northerly swells. Spring season swells are very weather dependant and can see a mix of all of these directions during any given week.
The unique bending, “boomerang shaped” curve of Cape Hatteras allows surfers to easily find offshore winds in any wind direction by moving 20 miles up or down the coastline. SW, W, and NW winds are offshore north of Cape Point. N, NE, E and even SE are offshore south of Cape Point. The shape of the coastline also allows surfers to track down larger (or sometimes smaller when you need it) wave heights in order to match the waves with their ability level. The combination of plentiful swell and offshore winds make Cape Hatteras a surfer’s paradise.
Beach Breaks Galore!
The surf in Cape Hatteras breaks on a sand bottom with numerous “beach breaks” up and down the coast. There are generally breaks that work better than others, but there are also countless good breaks that go completely unridden every day. 4WD vehicles are allowed on most stretches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. PLEASE avoid posted bird and turtle nesting closure areas. 4WD access allows surfers to pull up to their own private “A-Frame” beach break and have just their friends in the water with them. The maximum wave size that can be handled by these sandbars seems to be around head high to several feet overhead. Beyond that, the outside sandbars begin to break with regularity, but these are harder to line up due to swift currents and shifty peaks. Endless miles of beach means less crowds and more waves!
The warm Gulf Stream Current (normally around 80 degree) sits just 20+ miles off the coast and keeps the waters surrounding Cape Hatteras significantly warmer than waters an hour to the north. Four months a year sees surfers in trunks only (June through September). October, November, December and April can be anywhere from spring suits to fullsuits depending on weather. In the winter months (Jan, Feb, March), you will need a 4mm fullsuit with boots, gloves and sometimes a hood. These recommendations are for waters south of Oregon Inlet. Areas to the north of Oregon Inlet can be up to one month or colder following this scale.
While there are many ways of forecasting surf, the three we use the most are Surfline, Magic Seaweed and iKitesurf.com. Surfline has multiple webcams up and down the coast, while Magic Seaweed has a reasonably accurate free forecasting model. iKitesurf.com has wind sensors up and down the coast plus excellent wind forecasting to make timing your sessions pinpoint accurate, especially when it comes to offshore or onshore wind switches. You can check these websites here:
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (Good North Side Indicator)
Frisco Pier (Good Southside Indicator)
Cape Hatteras Swell Height and Swell Forecast
Frisco Airport Wind Meter
Gives Air Temp, Wind Direction (Compass Direction) and Wind Speed. Call 252-995-3646 for information.
iKitesurf.com Current Wind Conditions
Cape Hatteras Wind Speed and Direction (Check to see if wind is switching directions)
Cape Hatteras Radar/Satellite (Good for tracking thunderstorms/lightening)
Need a Board?
If you are traveling to Cape Hatteras and need a surfboard, REAL is an Official Surftech Tuflite Travel Center. This is a great way to get out on the water enjoying the smaller, cleaner days with a fish, high performance longboard or standup paddleboard if your personal board is too small. These rental rates are also 100% applicable towards the purchase of a new Surfboard if you end up wanting to take one home with you. Please call or e-mail ahead to reserve your board to guarantee it will be available when you arrive.
REAL offers Surf Instruction 7 days a week, March through December. Lessons are $100 for 1.5 hours and include use of a surfboard and discounted board rental rates for the remainder of your stay in Cape Hatteras. For more info or to book your instruction, please contact us at 866-REAL-548.
Cape Hatteras has the waves to satisfy any ability surfer, from the rank beginner to the seasoned professional. The season is long, with locals hitting the water 7 days a week, year round. The unique location and shape of the coastline allow for clean offshore wind conditions and breaks of varying shape and size during any given swell. It is truly a surfer’s paradise with unlimited potential to score uncrowded waves on your own stretch of beach!